Earlier this week, in "Will Nasty Fee Fights Fuel Consumers' Cord-Cutting Interest," I conjectured that last weekend's WABC-Cablevision retransmission consent fee fight (the most recent of many fee fights) would ultimately sow consumers' interest "cutting the cord" in favor of free, online-only alternatives. Obviously that would be bad news for multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs), but it would also be bad for the whole video ecosystem that depends on consumer payments for its economics to work.
In this context it's only mildly surprising that subsequently this week a group of MVPDs including Time Warner Cable, Cablevision, DirecTV, Verizon and others petitioned the FCC to intervene and revise the retransmission consent rules (for what it's worth, I can't remember the last time MVPDs asked the government for anything, except to stay out of their business). In a sure sign of who currently has the negotiating leverage, broadcasters sent their own letter saying the playing field was level and in no need of a review.
With broadcasters intent on getting paid for their signals, there are many chapters yet to be written in the retransmission consent story. The big risk here is that the parties' jousting will ultimately kill the proverbial golden goose, with consumers getting fed up and deciding they'll make do with whatever they can get through the combination of good old-fashioned antennas and a cheap convergence device that hooks their broadband connection to their TV. Cord-cutting has lacked a strong catalyst to date, but history shows that a wronged consumer is a motivated consumer. The TV industry as a whole needs to figure out the retransmission morass before consumers take things into their own hands.
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